Gov. Jerry Brown suggested Thursday that UC should study the possibility of divesting its endowment of any connection to the coal industry, a move that could echo a recent decision by Stanford University.
Concerned that fossil fuel burning is hastening climate change, student activists are urging the UC regents to sell off holdings in the largest such companies from the university system’s $7.7 billion general endowment fund. In the past, UC administrators said they were reluctant to do so because it might badly hurt the university’s finances. But lately, UC administrators have said that they will look into the idea.
Last week, Stanford’s trustees took a middle ground in promising to sell off stocks in companies whose primary business is coal extraction, but decided to retain holdings in oil and natural gas stocks.
On Thursday, Brown, who is a regent and attended the board’s meeting in Sacramento, said he would be open “to some targeted disinvestment” that would focus on just coal instead of the entire fossil fuel industry. “There could be something there,” he said.
Regents said they are seeking a report about various options and impacts of such divestments by July and that they might develop a new policy in the fall.
A previous UC analysis showed that about $39 million of the central UC endowment is invested in stocks of 67 of the 200 largest fossil fuel reserve firms; it has additional holdings in bonds, mutual funds and commodity contracts. (Activists are not targeting UC's retirement fund because of opposition it might engender from those receiving pensions.)
Ophir Bruck, a UC Berkeley student who is an organizer of the Fossil Free UC group, said he was pleased by Brown's comments. Coal divestment is "something we would be definitely be excited about and celebrate," while continuing to press for divestment from the entire fossil fuel industry, he said. About 60 members of that group demonstrated Wednesday outside the regents' meeting.
Last month, Pitzer College became the first college in Southern California to join a national campaign to divest from fossil fuel stocks. San Francisco State and two community college districts in Northern California are among about a dozen other schools nationwide that are divesting because of concerns that the burning of fossil fuels is causing environmental damage.